ISLAMABAD   -  The foreign ministry wants a career diplomat to be posted as High Commissioner to India as the two countries are trying to normalise diplomatic ties, senior officials said yesterday.

The foreign ministry officials told The Nation that appointment of a non-career diplomat may not be able to get the desired results for Islamabad.

This comes amid rumours that the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on National Security Moeed Yusuf was being considered for the slot.

Moeed Yusuf immediately rejected the speculations. “I know it’s too much to ask for a news story to be fact checked before publication these days. But at least the story shouldn’t defy all logic. It is totally made up and baseless,” he tweeted, referring to a report.

A media report suggested that there were strong chances of Yusuf’s appointment as High Commissioner to India as both the countries had shown positive signs of reconciliation during the past few days.

Before joining the government, the SAPM was Associate Vice President for Asia at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, and previously a Fellow at the Frederick S Pardee Center for the study of the Longer-Range Future at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. He was appointed Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning in December 2019.

The Foreign Ministry officials said Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi could pick anybody for the slot but the diplomatic corps would support a career diplomat for the job.

“There are so many to choose from. The foreign ministry will vote for a career diplomat. Hopefully, it will happen that way,” said one official. 

In February 2019, Pakistan had asked India to cut its embassy staff in Islamabad by half, just hours after New Delhi announced a similar decision. The envoys – Moinul Haq and Ajay Bisaria - were also recalled to downgrade the diplomatic relations.

The reciprocal action came amid heightened tension between the nuclear-armed South Asian rival countries over the long-running Kashmir dispute.

While the expulsion of diplomats is not uncommon due to the historically acrimonious relationship, the latest diplomatic dispute began when India expelled two Pakistani officials for “espionage,” prompting Pakistan to do the same in response.

Islamabad quickly rejected and condemned what it said baseless Indian allegations to seek a 50% reduction in the staff strength at the Pakistani High Commission.

Bilateral tensions deteriorated in August 2019 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government had unilaterally stripped the Indian-occupied portion of Kashmir of its decades-old constitutional semi-autonomous status.

New Delhi also placed the Muslim-majority region under a strict security and communication lockdown to deter violent reaction against the move, though some restrictions have been partially eased.

Officials said Pakistan envoy to Canada Raza Bashir Tarar and ambassador to Turkey Muhammad Syrus Sajjad Qazi were among the candidates and that Moinul Haq could be recalled from China to proceed to New Delhi.

“No decision has been taken so far but there will be some announcement soon. There are so many senior diplomats so there should be no problem,” said one official.

In the recent weeks, Pakistan and India have been giving statements to resolve the bilateral issues peacefully.

There were reports that FM Qureshi might meet Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on the sidelines of the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference in Tajikistan on March 30. Qureshi has said he did not request a meeting but was open to any meeting.

The latest developments came after Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said in Islamabad that it is time to “bury the past and move forward.”

However, addressing a conference, General Bajwa added that the issue of Kashmir is “obviously at the heart of this”. “It is important to understand that without the resolution of Kashmir dispute through peaceful means, the process of sub-continental rapprochement will always remain susceptible to derailment due to politically motivated bellicosity,” he said.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Imran Khan had also sounded conciliatory towards India and batted for greater trading relationship with New Delhi.

Indian PM Narendra Modi greeted PM Imran Khan this week on Pakistan Day and pledged to work for peace.

Last month, Pakistan and India Director General of Military Operations also agreed to maintain peace at the Line of Control, which is seen as the first step in the thawing of ties.